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Is domestic violence a norm in Nigeria?

By Nneoma Ebele
04 October 2017   |   3:43 am
The Lagos State Government has been campaigning that domestic abuse is a social vice while encouraging victims to speak up and witnesses to support government’s efforts to rid the society of it.

Though domestic violence in Nigerian is not new, the social media has conspired with the digital age to give the horrors of abuse more prominence in this generation. PHOTO: YouTube

Behavioural scientists posit that domestic violence is the failure of partners to exercise discretion – patience, tolerance and care for one another. Considering this vice knows neither race nor religion, Marvin J Aston’s stance that looking into each other’s hearts with some tolerance might help tame the monster makes a lot of sense. His words: “If we could look into each other’s hearts, and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more patience, tolerance and care.”

Though domestic violence in Nigerian is not new, the social media has conspired with the digital age to give the horrors of abuse more prominence in this generation. Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse by one partner in an intimate relationship against another. The abuse could be physical, emotional, sexual, or a mix of some or all of the three. It often starts subtly with victims not recognising from the onset that they are being abused and abusers not accepting the gravity of their actions until it degenerates to a life-threatening point. Often, the abuse leaves lasting psychological effects on the victim and in worst cases results into fatalities.

A 2016 research by Domestic Violence Nigeria explains that one third of all women in Nigeria have experienced physical abuse. This is a significant number, given that almost half of Nigeria’s estimated population of 160 million are women. Curiously, 43 percent of these women think physical abuse can be justified on the grounds of simple domestic mistakes like burning a meal or going out without permission. This statistic devastatingly highlights how a lot of women who are victims of abuse across Nigeria blame themselves for it, so they take no action to address it.

Whereas, the Nigerian Criminal Code Act of 1990 states in Section 360 that “Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for two years,” the Nigerian government has taken legal action against men who abuse women in several states.

Although the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act was enacted in 2015 as a federal law to address all cases of violence, yet domestic violence is still rarely investigated, weakly reported and almost largely regarded as a norm in Nigeria.

The major tell-tale sign of abuse is feeling fear for one’s partner. My take is that people should not live in fear of those that claim to love them. Recognising abuse in a relationship is the first step to ending it. It can be difficult to identify non-physical abuse, because it often develops gradually. It is compounded by the fact that as relationships grow, women take on more of domestic roles. In Nigeria, there is a mental imprint in the minds of people that a woman should naturally assume these domestic roles.

Therefore she is seen as mother and caretaker, even to her spouse. The general expectation is for her to kiss her husband’s feet and bend backwards to sustain the relationship. If she by any chance isn’t fulfilling these “womanly duties”, she is seen a2v2s disrespectful.

So, abusers often resort to domestic violence calling it “mental reset”, blaming the victim for ‘provoking’ the abuse. However, it is important for victims to understand one thing: abusers use fear, guilt and intimidation to dominate and control their victims. Abusers try to justify their actions by describing it as a form of discipline and in some cases, getting the abuser to promise not to repeat the offence.

Domestic abuse cuts across all societies and ages irrespective of class or status; spanning from the religious to free thinkers, illiterates to educated, married and singles and even between people that do not cohabit. Spousal domestic violence is intensely on the rise and turning a blind eye to it will not make it go away. This is why Natures Gentle Touch’s intervention appears timely. The leading natural haircare brand has opted to join their efforts to at least reduce domestic violence through an enlightenment campaign that would empower women through knowledge-laden entertainment.

This excites me because I have long wondered how the Nigerian society can be rid of this vice. Violence and abuse should never be acceptable. And I think that ignorance is the most fertile ground for domestic violence to grow. Everyone deserves to feel valued, safe and respected in life, particularly in personal relationships.

The Lagos State Government has been campaigning that domestic abuse is a social vice while encouraging victims to speak up and witnesses to support government’s efforts to rid the society of it. I totally agree that abuse is a choice and victims should not accept responsibility for the actions of the abusers. This is where the enlightenment campaign is a clincher, as it would help people to imbibe the knowledge that it is unfair to indulge in domestic violence under any guise, while victims will learn that they can solve it by helping their partners and where that fails, seek protection from the law.

This has become necessary because the public is often jolted by the horrors of domestic violence when the abuse has gotten to a point of fatality, with screaming headlines in the media, like “Pregnant woman brutally battered by husband,” or “Husband beats wife to death”.

Because of cultural nuances, while this evil abounds, family, friends and neighbours typically avoid poking noses in other people’s relationships. But while it can be easy to disregard the issue especially by those not directly affected, the society faces problems from domestic violence and its consequences. Research shows that the psychological effects of abuse can cause mental illness, eventually leading to insanity. Consequently, children who experience their mothers undergo violence are more likely to become criminals making them become “government children” or “children of the street”.

The most commonly referenced psychological effect of domestic violence is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), leaving the victim scarred for a long period of time. Following these effects, we have to ask ourselves: Do we really love our women?

Women deserve to be treated like queens, not servants. It is time for Nigerian women to stand up for themselves to identify the signs before the violence escalates into a devastating headline. It is time for us to look out for each other stand against violence rather than remaining spectators. It is time to start taking action to the saying “treat women how you want your daughter to be treated”. It will always be nice to get some enlightenment while being entertained. What makes this effort by Natures Gentle Touch more appealing to me is that partners or spouses can be entertained together, while being enlightened at the same time.

However, my take is that women should be more interested, because research has shown that the psychological effects of domestic violence can cause a woman to lose her self-esteem, confidence and also depression. Focusing on one’s wellbeing is an effective way to regain self-confidence after abuse. When dealing with recovery, the littlest things count the most.